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Environmental Decontamination Of Nuclear Waste Using Biology! Read more

Berkeley, CA Technology
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Environmental Decontamination Of Nuclear Waste Using Biology!

Berkeley, CA Technology
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About this project

Project Gamma Hungry is a scientific experiment using synthetic biology to decontaminate and remove nuclear waste.

Kickstarter Goals 

The primary goal of this Kickstarter is to develop a proof of concept for cleaning up nuclear waste left behind in the wake of devastating incidents such as Chernobyl and Fukushima. This Kickstarter is not about consumer-facing goods.

Project Gamma Hungry is a scientific endeavor, and the initial goal is to build a bioreactor prototype with genetically engineered fungi to remove Uranium nuclear waste from isolated water sources.

Motivation

A normal human is exposed to about 4 mSv (4 microsieverts) of radiation every year--everything on earth, even you, emits trace amounts of radiation. But it’s pretty common knowledge that exposure to high doses of ionizing radiation has negative health effects.

Take Chernobyl.  Hundreds of victims in the irradiated zone died in the aftermath, but the World Health Organization believes hundreds of thousands more have a higher risk of cancer now as a result of the accident. The half-life of some of the resultant radioactive particles is incredibly long, in some cases: 20,000 years long.  That means that humans won't be able to inhabit areas heavily impacted by the Chernobyl disaster for 20,000 years:  a portion of the inhabitable Earth has been cleaved off.

More of these accidents will likely happen. There are over 430 commercial nuclear power reactors in 31 countries with about 70 more reactors under construction. Everyone will tell you that the probability is low that something will happen, but what about the damages that have already occurred to nuclear power plants in the US? Despite the Fukushima incident on most people’s minds, more recently on February 14, 2014, there was a leak at the New Mexico Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) uranium repository. 

Even small leaks can have a huge effect by increasing the risk for cancer. Cancer is a horrific disease, killing 600,000, and afflicting about 1.7 million new people in America alone every year. We don't want these rates going up. We need them to go down. We can help. 

We need a real, bankable solution in case something goes awry.  Project Gamma Hungry offers a step towards such a solution.

Isn't it time we did something? Get some of the nuclear waste out of the environment? Or at least, prepare for the possibility of larger and more devastating accidents?

The Gamma Hungry Solution

Our solution starts with the fungus Cladosporium sphaerospermum that was found growing in the Chernobyl wastelands. In 2007, Albert Einstein College of Medicine scientist Ekaterina Dadachova reported experimental evidence that this organism utilizes a special melanin pigment to convert radiation into cellular energy, similar to the way plants use green pigments to convert sunlight into energy through photosynthesis. 

Not only can this fungus convert radiation to living energy, but it can survive and flourish in the extreme conditions of a nuclear wasteland.

Why does it matter? This phenomenon matters because it can be combined with other biological phenomena to produce a useful biological mechanism. We will use this fungus in combination with genes from the bacteria Shewanella oneidensis

S. oneidensis can electrically reduce metal ions in the environment and transform electrical energy into metabolic energy. By engineering the C. sphaerospermum fungus with this electron transport pathway, we can transport the electrons drawn from gamma radiation from fungi to an electrode. 

Mtr pathway native to S. oneidensis, multi-cytochrome gene cluster, complete sequence; ferrous iron transporter (feoB), deca-heme c-type cytochrome (mtrC), c-type cytochrome precursor (mtrA), and outer membrane protein precursor (mtrB)
Mtr pathway native to S. oneidensis, multi-cytochrome gene cluster, complete sequence; ferrous iron transporter (feoB), deca-heme c-type cytochrome (mtrC), c-type cytochrome precursor (mtrA), and outer membrane protein precursor (mtrB)

If we transform this pathway into the C. sphaerospermum fungus that can survive and utilize radiation, we get an organism that survives in and utilizes radiation and can reduce metal ions. 

But how does this really help with remediation? The Mtr pathway has been shown to reduce soluble Uranium (VI) to insoluble Uranium (IV). This means that the engineered fungus will survive the harsh conditions, grow around radiation sources, and reduce the difficult-to-remove Uranium. From there, we need to draw out the soluble nuclear waste. 

In essence, the engineered fungus enables Uranium removal and storage

Depiction of Uranium reduction process. Uranium(VI) is soluble and thus difficult to remove from water. Uranium (IV) is insoluble and thus easier to remove from water.
Depiction of Uranium reduction process. Uranium(VI) is soluble and thus difficult to remove from water. Uranium (IV) is insoluble and thus easier to remove from water.

For more detail about the science behind this project, please visit our website!

Testimonials

Check out the blog from Maxx Chatsko at SynBioBeta!

Where do we work?

We have partnered with Berkeley Biolabs, who provide us laboratory space. The mission of Berkeley Biolabs is to accelerate biotech innovation through a collaborative, high throughput approach to scientific discovery and business development. Berkeley Biolabs enables scientists and biotech entrepreneurs to research and develop their products by providing economical lab facilities, a large biotech community and a host of services to accelerate their success.

Berkeley Biolabs Facilitates
Berkeley Biolabs Facilitates

Development

Project Gamma Hungry is divided into three phases: research, development, and commercialization. In the research phase, genetic engineering will be carried out on the radiotrophic fungi C. sphaerospermum to transform the electrogenic pathway from S. oneidensis. The engineered C. sphaerospermum will be tested for Uranium reduction and energy production from radiation from a Cs137 gamma source.

Depiction of development process from research to commercialization.
Depiction of development process from research to commercialization.

Why Kickstarter?

We are bringing this idea to Kickstarter because we want to present a solution to the world. It is our world. We broke it. We need to investigate a new way to fix it. We are asking Earth for the financial support to complete the genetic engineering and test my hypothesis. Your support will be used for research and development. We are issuing a call to arms for the support required to test the theory that may help in restoring what has been broken.

Rewards

Our Thoughts on Nuclear Energy

Now, you’re probably thinking, "well, if all this fallout is so bad, then why do we use nuclear energy in the first place?” It is a legitimate question. The answer: because nuclear energy is efficient, and totally cool. We don’t want to convince you that nuclear energy is bad or wrong or immoral; we just want to test a process for cleaning up our mess in case nuclear facilities make a mistake.

Sharing is Caring

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Check out our company website!

Video Footage

Our Kickstarter video was made with footage from outside sources. We do not own the rights to the footage. The source material can be found here:

Risks and challenges

We are endeavoring to adapt nature to fit our purposes. This adaption requires genetic transformation. But biology can be complicated. Sometimes genetic transformation can be a bit tricky. The biological pieces work in their respective organisms, and genetic transformation has been shown possible in the target fungus. With further research, we are confident we can perform the required transformation.

For a more detailed list of the risks and complications, please visit our site.

Learn about accountability on Kickstarter

FAQ

Have a question? If the info above doesn't help, you can ask the project creator directly.

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Rewards

  • You selected
    $1 reward

    9 backers

    For only $1, not only will you get the knowledge that you have helped a scientist in need, but you will have earned the right to check off the "I have done good" box on your daily checklist. But in all seriousness, you have our thank you and appreciation!

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  • You selected
    $10 reward

    19 backers

    You are clearly dedicated to not dying from radiation poisoning. For $10, you will get your name posted proudly on the Beyond Berlin Website along with your co-contributors. You will also receive a STICKER! You’ll be able to put it on your wall and say “hey, I helped advance science and remediate stuff!” You will be the subject of envy by any person or persons you deem fit to see your walls.

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  • You selected
    $50 reward

    16 backers

    Ok, you’re serious: $50 serious. Instead of buying the next Fallout game to hit the shelves of GameStop, you have contributed to actually avoiding fallout. For your sacrifice, you will receive a BEYOND BERLIN / GAMMA-HUNGRY T-SHIRT in your size. You will also be provided with an Exclusive Email NEWSLETTER that details the process of genetically engineering Gamma Hungry fungi. If your friends were not envious before, wait until they see your shirt.

    You will also be sent all prizes from previous levels but your name will be listed among the $50 co-contributors.

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  • You selected
    $75 reward

    5 backers

    For $75 we will send you a signed copy of the Initial Beyond Berlin WHITEPAPER that started the whole project. It is sort of like our origin story, and we want you to be a part of it.

    You will also be sent all prizes from previous levels but your name will be listed among the $75 co-contributors.

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  • You selected
    $100 reward

    9 backers

    At this level, there can be no doubt that you’re either scared of radiation poisoning or hate the thought of losing out on sushi because all the fish are tainted with radionuclides. For $100, you will receive a way to preserve the memory with a stunning, in color, PHOTOBOOK that documents the steps of the Project Gamma Hungry design, build, test cycle. You will also be sent all prizes from previous levels but your name will be listed among the $100 co-contributors.

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  • You selected
    $200 reward

    2 backers

    You are dedicated to seeing this project through. For $200, you will be sent a Beyond Berlin Sweatshirt in your size that will cover your upper body until we can remove the radiation problems. You will also be sent all prizes from previous levels but your name will be listed among the $200 co-contributors.

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  • You selected
    $500 reward

    3 backers

    Wow. You are dedicated to seeing this project through. For $500, you will be able to join us in all the science fun with a BIOREACTOR STARTER KIT. At this level, we want you to be able to experience the wonder of bioelectrochemistry, so we will send you a set of 3D printed bioreactors and a non-genetically modified electrogenic organism to make your very own bio-battery!

    You will also be sent all prizes from previous levels but your name will be listed among the $500 co-contributors.

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  • You selected
    $1,000 reward

    1 backer

    At this point, you deserve more than some clothing; you deserve to glance beyond to where the Beyond Berlin magic happens. For $1000, you will be given an Exclusive PLAQUE to remember how you helped save the planet. You will also be given access to the Beyond Berlin laboratory in Berkeley California for a SITE TOUR (for locals).

    You will also be sent all prizes from previous levels but your name will be listed among the $1000 co-contributors.

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  • You selected
    $5,000 reward

    0 backers

    This is the kind of commitment that needs to be appreciated in a special way. Because we are students of Science at Beyond Berlin, we reserve our highest gratitude for those who donate at this level. For $5000, you will have your name listed in the Acknowledgments section of any/all Scientific Papers or Posters that detail the Gamma Hungry Project or any piece of its science. In fact, the first case will be in the IRPA Radiation Conference in Geneva, Switzerland in June 2014.

    You will also be sent all prizes from previous levels but your name will be listed among the $5000 co-contributors.

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  • You selected
    $10,000 reward

    0 backers

    With this kind of money, we do not think you will be enticed by trinkets or plaques, you need a world were radiation is not leaking across the oceans. For $10000, please ask us what we can do to make your donation worth it for you.

    You will also be sent all prizes from previous levels but your name will be listed among the $10000 co-contributors.

    Estimated delivery:
    Ships anywhere in the world

Funding period

- (24 days)